January 21st, 2009
07:57 PM ET
6 years ago

Obama re-takes oath of office at the White House

WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Obama on Wednesday re-took his oath of office after Chief Justice John Roberts flubbed while delivering it at Tuesday's inauguration.

As he did Tuesday, Roberts asked the president if he was ready to take the oath, this time in the White House Map Room instead of the Capitol steps.

"I am," Obama replied, "and we're going to take it very slowly."

The 35-word oath took 25 seconds. The bobbled oath on Tuesday took 30 seconds.

The move was aimed at dispelling any confusion that might arise from Tuesday's take, and erase any question that Obama is legally the president.

"We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the president was sworn in appropriately yesterday," said White House Counsel Greg Craig in a statement. "But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time."

Obama, waiting on a couch for the ceremony to begin, joked that "we decided it was so much fun ... "

After a flawless recitation, Roberts smiled and said, "Congratulations again."

"Thank you, sir," the president replied, and then, after a smattering of applause, quipped that "the bad news for the (press) pool is there's 12 more balls."

Roberts made no comment on becoming tongue-tied Tuesday, but it set tongues wagging.

The oath, as most oaths are, is administered by the one administering it breaking it into phrases that are repeated by the official being sworn in.

Roberts, apparently working without a copy of the oath handy, started out by reciting a six-word phrase, but Obama broke in halfway through and repeated the first three.

That seemed to throw the chief justice off stride, and he proceeded to mix up the order of the words in the next phrase.

The Constitution sets out the language that should be used in the oath: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Roberts moved the word "faithfully" back nine spots, and used "to" instead of "of." That threw the president off base, and he smiled and paused to collect his thoughts, then decided to follow Roberts' lead.

But the chief justice at the same time attempted to correct himself.

Here's how it went:

Roberts: ... that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully ...

Obama: ... that I will execute ...

Roberts: ... the off - faithfully the pres - the office of president of the United States ...

Obama (at the same time): ... the office of president of the United States faithfully ...

The two got the rest correct, including the non-obligatory "So help you God?" "So help me God."

Reporters, bloggers, and others weighed in. The New York Post offered this headline: "Roberts is the Oaf of Office."

A Washington Post reader complained in a letter to the editor, "What could have been a moment for the ages was marred by Mr. Roberts' thoughtlessness. News outlets will report that the first words of our new president were "confused." Whether through design or an amazing lack of preparation, Justice Roberts's behavior was a disgrace."

And Fox News anchor Chris Wallace said, "We're wondering here whether or not Barack Obama in fact is the president of the United States. They had a kind of garbled oath. It's just conceivable that this will end up going to the courts."

The always-playful legal Web site Above the Law asked readers to answer an online poll. About 48 percent blamed Roberts, just 17 percent blame Obama, and 35 percent said yes to the statement, "They both sucked."

In a congressional luncheon after the swear-in Roberts and Obama exchanged words, and the chief justice appeared to tell the president, "It was my fault."

Mistakes do happen, even in the most meticulously prepared of events.

During the 1941 swear-in, nerves apparently got to then-Supreme Court clerk Elmore Leonard who held the Bible for President Franklin Roosevelt (wives of the president did not have that honor as they do now). After Roosevelt completed the oath, Leonard dropped the book.

No hard feelings were expressed by the president. In fact, when Vice President Joseph Biden joked about the Roberts mix-up at a Wednesday swear-in of White House officials, Obama refused to smile or laugh as others did. His stern expression betrayed his lack of amusement at Roberts' expense.

Take heart, Mr. Chief Justice. You may have many more inaugurals in the future to get it right.

- CNN Supreme Court producer Bill Mears contributed to this report.

(updated 8:30 pm with additional information)

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (173 Responses)
  1. lovable liberal

    Nothing wrong with splitting an infinitive in English. Even Fowler agrees there are fine times to do it.

    January 21, 2009 11:28 pm at 11:28 pm |
  2. TCM

    JOhn Roberts didn't flub you biased boobs, he was on time...OBama messed it up by not staying in tempo....Are you CNN libs going to cover up everything right down to something that trivial? PAthetic journalism.

    January 21, 2009 11:32 pm at 11:32 pm |
  3. Joe

    Just need to give a "hear, hear" to db's post. Wanted to write something myself, but after reading that, I think he (she?) says it all.

    January 21, 2009 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  4. Michael

    I don't like that President Obama opted not to use a Bible for the retaking of the oath. It wouldn't have been that difficult to get ahold of Lincoln's Bible one more time.

    To make the effort to 'redo' something means you should DO IT RIGHT the second time. Saying a Bible is a tradition, and not a requirement, is fine... but then they wouldn't have used a Bible the first time. President Obama wanted to use a Bible the first time, so use it for the retake.

    January 21, 2009 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  5. Joel

    I smell something arat!

    This could be a bush clone!

    January 21, 2009 11:35 pm at 11:35 pm |
  6. ginger

    Oh my what will the FOX news network have to cry about Thursday morning? I'm sure Justice Roberts feels very bad for his mistake but it has been corrected. We should have a sense of humor like the President who just made good humor out of the error.

    January 21, 2009 11:36 pm at 11:36 pm |
  7. Eric Kosky

    It has been reported that two other presidents redid their inaugural oaths – including Chester A. Arthur. Does anyone know why these other presidents redid their oaths? Was it due to wording problems? I was also interested in the fact that there was not a bible present in the photo of the redo. I looked in the Constitution and could not see anything written about the requirement of a bible or religious text being used for the swearing in, so i guess this is not a huge deal. Also, was the redo necessary? The constitution has several spelling errors (or old alternative versions of correct modern grammar) so the slight rewording may not have been a huge deal either.

    January 21, 2009 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  8. Mike from KC

    First, let's stay on the subject of the article.
    I think the flub-up was hilarious. It brought a sense of light-heartedness to a very somber occasion.
    I find it very cool that Mr. Obama felt it necessary to have it repeated, for whatever reason.

    To Dan-
    Get over it. In my opinion, whatever the final cost is, the historical significance this inauguration had makes the coverage, and cost worth every penny.

    January 21, 2009 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  9. SueB

    When the flub originally happened, some of my coworkers laughed and commented on how they were glad it happened, it just showed that Obama was really human and nervous, just one of every day people. When they later found out Roberts had messed it up, they ripped Roberts apart as deliberately trying to sabotage Obama's big day and make him look stupid in front of the whole world. I pointed out their double standard. I'm sure they won't be hypocritical again, at least not when I'm around.

    January 21, 2009 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  10. gabriel danaher

    As expected CNN does not like criticism........'no posting' of anything critical of the nonsense reporting.......this will not be posted either

    January 21, 2009 11:54 pm at 11:54 pm |
  11. Staff Sergeant Salmon

    Posh...all this whining for an oath, given out of nervousness. Anyone here who is in the military knows that we say the same oath except we swear to follow the orders of the President and or Governor (depending if you're National Guard). My point is, I fumbled over mine as a 17 year old kid who signed up a week after the Iraq war started in 03. I was nervous, and finally my point: If there is any chatter that Obama is not legally the president because of a fumbled oath then I guess I'm not a legal member of the armed services. Thanks for helping me out nick-pickers...now I guess I'll go call my commander and tell him I'm not coming in because 6 years ago I fumbled over the oath so I'm not legally bound to the Air Force...seriously. (I wish you could see me rolling my eyes.)

    January 21, 2009 11:55 pm at 11:55 pm |
  12. carmela

    This just means that President Obama is twice the president and even more he can be...top that bitter baby Dan

    January 21, 2009 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  13. Dick c.

    Somehow, they'll put the blame on W.

    big D. Cheney

    January 22, 2009 12:00 am at 12:00 am |
  14. Jeff Spangler, Arlington, VA

    The good news is the "abundance of caution" from former Williams & Connolly partner Greg Craig, who will hopefully temper some of the legally more ambitious ideas of the Obama Administration. The bad news is the President's humorlessness and agitation with Biden's little quip. Lighten up, Dude. (P.S.: the language was not a "perfect jibe" because the "so help me God" was constitutional surplusage tossed in to make the deistic majority feel better about their faiths.)

    January 22, 2009 12:04 am at 12:04 am |
  15. Comment

    To add on to previous comment. Cnn with this type of "childish" reporting; Your not going to make it with the Obama administration; his powerful persona will diminish you.

    January 22, 2009 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  16. John G

    To "Bush nominated Roberts. It figures."

    I was actually waiting for someone to claim that this was a Republican ploy to somehow tarnish the new administration. You took it a step further and made it about race though so you get and extra helping of ice cream at dinner tonight!

    You are actually the reason that the races in this country will never feel as if they are equals. Every misstep on the part of white people is seen as a slight against whichever minority can claim it, but white people are the only ones capable of being racists (if a black man discriminates against a white man it's REVERSE racism).

    But you are absolutely right. The black President is obviously being held down by "the man".

    January 22, 2009 12:11 am at 12:11 am |
  17. ChicagoSuz

    This may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. President Obama and Chief Justice Roberts seemed to have bonded over this snafu. I wonder if he plays basketball.

    In any event, they had a do-over today just to make it kosher...

    January 22, 2009 12:21 am at 12:21 am |
  18. Bill Charlotte, NC

    Dang! There goes numerous spin theories on Fox Noise; and there goes all those idiotic lawsuits being lined up by the Coultergeist, Rushies, and other extreme right paranoids.

    January 22, 2009 12:22 am at 12:22 am |
  19. Mar

    So why isn't anyone pointing out that President Obama stepped over Chief Justice Roberts and didn't wait for him to get to the "break point" before he started repeating the oath. Listen to VP Biden take his oath and then listen to President Obama. You should be able to catch the difference and I think that is what threw CJ Roberts off his game. Enough blame to go around although it really doesn't matter. However, the media IS in the tank for the President and they can't possibly bring themselves to admit he could do any wrong..

    January 22, 2009 12:24 am at 12:24 am |
  20. jennifer

    obama screws up oath NOT chief justice roberts!!!
    Created 9 minutes ago by taTa t0t.







    January 22, 2009 12:30 am at 12:30 am |
  21. Joseph

    Like many have said, the cost of this event was nearly the same as Presidents Bush's was in 2005, what many don't realize though is that only about 30 million is paid from the government which goes to build the platform at the capital and the reviewing stand at the White House. The other part of the money is taken from Donations of private citizens like the campaign was. The money that is raised through donations is mostly spent on the balls, and other things to celebrate the new President. So saying the cost of this event is truly not fair when most of it comes from donations.

    January 22, 2009 12:46 am at 12:46 am |
  22. T. Mckinley

    Barack Obama is President of the United States, not because of the exact wording of the oath of office, but because he won the Nov. 4 election by a clearly decisive popular vote and an electoral landslide.

    Why is this even news?

    January 22, 2009 12:51 am at 12:51 am |
  23. Andrew K, Chicago

    As a proud English major, I'm mortified by the fact that only one person has chosen to bring up the notion of split infinitives. This nation has been doing it wrong for over 200 years, maybe we should inform all the dead presidents that seeing as how their oath of office was grammatically incorrect, therefore so was their presidency.

    If that's the case, then I proudly congratulate Barack Obama on being the first President of the United States of America. how's *that* for progress?!

    January 22, 2009 01:05 am at 1:05 am |
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